Right to Work Here to Stay in Kentucky

Judge tosses union lawsuit

Gov. Matt Bevin
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin / Getty Images
January 23, 2018

A Kentucky judge threw out a union attempt to block the state's newly minted right to work law.

Teamsters Local 89 filed suit shortly after Republican Gov. Matt Bevin approved right to work, a law that bars companies from mandating union membership as a condition of employment, in January 2017. On Tuesday, Franklin Circuit Court Judge Thomas D. Wingate dismissed the suit, saying the union failed to show a "genuine issue of material fact" to support its assertion the law would illegally take their property.

"The KRTW Act does not violate the equal protections afforded by the Kentucky Constitution, nor is it special legislation that was enacted," the ruling says. "No genuine issue of material fact exists for any of these issues."

Labor groups sought to block the implementation of the law by arguing that it illegally denied them their property, namely the dues and fees that workers pay. Federal law mandates that unions with sole bargaining rights over a workplace cover all employees, rather than just members. The union argued right to work would create a free rider problem in which workers benefit from union-negotiated wages and compensation, as well as grievance representation and work rules, but do not have to pay for that representation.

Judge Wingate dismissed that claim, saying the law did not prevent unions from continuing to collect from those opting for membership. He further said that a worker's wages, even the portion that previously went to pay dues or fees, are not considered the property of the union.

"The Court holds that Plaintiffs do not hold a vested property interest in union service or future union security contracts, and, further, the KRTW Act does not constitute a taking," the ruling says. "Any lost payment of compulsory dues is not a taking because future union dues and fees do not constitute a vested property interest with which the government is interfering."

The judge said the denial of non-members fees did not meet the bar for unconstitutional taking. Federal law has long held that right to work laws are constitutional and that unions voluntarily enter collective bargaining agreements knowing that labor policy may change at the state level.

"Unions have long known that the privilege of exclusive representation comes with the obligation of exclusively representing all members of an organization," the ruling says. "Unions have had notice of a potential change in state legislation, and the reality that legislation may change has long colored the scope of a union's investment backed expectations."

The ruling won approval from labor watchdogs. Patrick Semmens, spokesman for the National Right to Work Foundation, which helped to defend the law, called the lawsuit a "desperate" last-ditch effort to overturn the law.

"The lawsuit is a desperate attempt by union bosses to restore their forced dues powers over workers, and if it were actually successful it would threaten the record investment and tens of thousands of new jobs created since Right to Work was enacted," Semmens said. "Instead of wasting more of their members' money by appealing this ruling, union officials ought to be working to gain the voluntary support of the workers they claim to represent."

The union did not respond to requests for comment about whether it plans to appeal the ruling.

Published under: Right to Work , Unions